#ColoradoRiver: “It was a how-should-we-be-prepared-for-another-drought study” — Eric Kuhn #COriver

Glen Canyon Dam June 2013 -- Photo / Brad Udall
Glen Canyon Dam June 2013 — Photo / Brad Udall

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The head of the Colorado River District is defending an ongoing water study from Front Range concerns about its intent and possible regional bias.

Eric Kuhn, the district’s general manager, says while Front Range water interests view the project as a water supply study, that’s not the case.

“It was a how-should-we-be-prepared-for-another-drought study,” he said Monday in providing an update to the Colorado Basin Roundtable water group.

The first phase of a study undertaken by the four Western Slope river basin roundtables, with the leadership of the river district and Southwestern Water Conservation District, found that another severe drought such as the one in the early 2000s could cause enough of a drop in Lake Powell to jeopardize Glen Canyon Dam’s ability to generate electricity. It also could create a risk of Colorado and other Upper Colorado River Basin states being unable to meet their downstream water delivery obligations under a 1922 interstate compact and under guidelines established in 2007. That could result in a cutback in Upper Basin water uses.

The Western Slope is now planning a second phase of the study that would cost about $90,000. The goal is to further quantify the drought risks to water users in the state by looking at use-reduction scenarios for making up for a deficit of water in Powell.

Four Western Slope roundtables are asking the Colorado Water Conservation Board for $10,000 apiece, or $40,000 total, for the study’s second phase, with the river district and Southwest district splitting the difference. But Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer and manager of Denver Water and president of the Front Range Water Council utilities group, has written a letter arguing that such a study would be best conducted at a statewide or Upper Colorado River Basin level, “with all interested water users represented, rather than by particular sub regions or individual roundtables.”

Some of the proposed involuntary water-use curtailment alternatives in the study’s second phase “potentially favor limited special interests,” Lochhead wrote, stressing the need instead for a state-led discussion that considers all interests.

He also voiced the council’s concern that assumptions used in phase one “may be creating biased impressions regarding the amount of the remaining developable water” in the Colorado River Basin, and that phase one may be viewed by some outside the state “as representative of the State of Colorado’s position on remaining developable water.”

How much of that water remains to be developed is a sensitive issue for the Western Slope, where most of Colorado’s water originates, and for the Front Range, which diverts a substantial amount of Colorado River water and wants to divert more.

Kuhn says the study is simply intended to contribute toward developing a collaborative program for avoiding Colorado River compact problems for existing uses and some reasonable amount of new uses on the Western Slope. Collaboration aimed at heading off such curtailments on use due to interstate obligations was identified in the new state water plan as one of seven principles for guiding any discussions of new transmountain diversions out of the river basin.

The CWCB’s director, James Eklund, has agreed to head up meetings aimed at resolving Front Range concerns about the study and its funding. Kuhn said he sees the result being that the state has a bigger say in the study’s scope of work, not that it takes over the study altogether.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

#ColoradoRiver: Sharing Water: A Special Presentation from Author John Fleck Wednesday, November 30 #COriver

Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic
Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic

Register here. From the website:

When the governments of the United States and Mexico released water from Morelos Dam on the Colorado River in the spring of 2014, it marked the culmination of one of the most important environmental restoration experiments in arid western North America. In the midst of deep drought, water returned to the river’s desiccated delta, and with it birds, riparian plant communities, and even beavers. But while all nature is ultimately local, bringing water and wildlife back to that landscape required linking those local environmental concerns to water management in the entire Colorado River Basin, spread across seven U.S. states and two in Mexico. John Fleck will talk about his new book “Water is for Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West,” which chronicles the environmental success in the delta and the broader problem solving that made it possible.

waterisforfightingoverandothermythsaboutwaterinthewestjohnfleckcover

#ColoradoRiver Compact Commission in Santa Fe, November 24, 1922 — @USBR #COriver

On this day in 1922, Federal and State representatives met for the Colorado River Compact Commission in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among the attendees were Arthur P. Davis, Director of Reclamation Service, and Herbert Hoover, who at the time, was the Secretary of Commerce. Photo taken November 24, 1922. USBR photo.
On this day in 1922, Federal and State representatives met for the Colorado River Compact Commission in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among the attendees were Arthur P. Davis, Director of Reclamation Service, and Herbert Hoover, who at the time, was the Secretary of Commerce. Photo taken November 24, 1922. USBR photo.

From Wikipedia:

History

The compact was the fruit of several years of negotiations among the states. The seven states had previously formed the League of the Southwest in 1917 to promote development along the river. In 1921, Congress authorized the states to enter into a compact for allocation of the river resources. The agreement was approved by Congress in 1922, the same year it was signed. Colorado River Compact was signed by the delegates from the seven Colorado River Basin states: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico were designated Upper Basin states and California, Arizona and Nevada as the Lower Basin states. This compact determined that the water would be shared equally among the upper and lower basin states. Prior to the compact, the name of the river was standardized along its length. Previously the portion of the river upstream from its confluence with the Green River had been known locally as the “Grand River”. The change was opposed by many local residents in Utah and Colorado, and the new name was enforced locally by acts of the state legislatures in both states in the early 1920s. One of the major concerns both today and back in the 1920’s was the expanding population, and this increased the demand for water, particularly in California. In more recent years, mainly because of Las Vegas, Nevada has been looking for more use of the Colorado River.

Arizona Navy photo via California State University
Arizona Navy photo via California State University

In 1934, Arizona, unhappy with California’s decision to dam and divert the river, called out the National Guard and even commissioned a two boat “navy.” The matter was eventually settled in court.

The agreement was controversial even at the time, however. Arizona, for example, was dissatisfied with the lower basin allotment and refused to ratify the agreement until 1944.[7] The specific allotments were disputed by Arizona until the United States Supreme Court upheld the amount in the 1963 decision in Arizona v. California. The agreement ended many years of dispute, clearing the way for the Central Arizona Project, authorized by Congress in 1968.

Delph Carpenter's 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell
Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell

In #Wyoming a fishery wins over #drought & #ColoradoRiver Compact storage #COriver

Smiths Fork River photo credit Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Smiths Fork River photo credit Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

From The Casper Star-Tribune (Greg Fladager):

The Wyoming Water Development Commission voted against the Sublette Creek Reservoir, citing concerns by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department that too much water would be diverted, harming the Smiths Fork fishery.

“Their concern was that the water levels are being diminished in Smiths Fork, and that it would cause the temperatures to rise in late summer, and if those temperatures exceed a certain threshold, then you have the potential for a fish kill,” said commission director Harry LaBonde.

After the vote in a joint meeting of the commission and the Legislature’s Select Water Committee, Demont Grandy of the Cokeville Development Company said they were not planning to further pursue the project.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s over,” Grandy said, noting area irrigators had been looking at it for nearly 35 years.

Siting problems have long plagued the undertaking. About $1 million in studies have been conducted and three potential locations rejected.

Another issue that raised concern was the project’s financial viability. In reports to the commission, the development company said its members could pay for operations and maintenance but not the dam itself.

Water storage rates would be between $17 and $178 per acre-foot, depending on the district’s financing costs and varying reservoir volumes. The small irrigation district said its members could afford to pay around $4 per acre-foot for water.

Commissioner Floyd Canfield has been a strong proponent of the project. The 4,100-acre-foot reservoir would help provide protection during times of drought should Wyoming ever need to supplement water flowing downstream under the Colorado River Compact, he said.

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to find a way to use a pre-compact water right. That’s the objective,” Canfield said. “It’s a very hard place to do that.”

State water officials suggested that enough data had been collected on the project’s drainage area that, should another potential site be located, the sponsors could start with a ‘Level II, Stage II’ study, rather than beginning from scratch.

The commission supported that recommendation in the motion to deny project funding.

“So, to me, I think that I would go for the motion, and hope that between the state engineer’s office and the agency, we could continue to work with the sponsor on a couple of spots,” said commissioner David Evans.

Even if another site is located, the timing of the rejection could affect its prospects. The state is facing significant revenue declines stemming from the energy downturn, and the commission is already set to approve projects that would commit about two-thirds of the $158 million in the Level III construction account.

“I think we have to start prioritizing things, and limiting how much money we use in studying sites,” Canfield said. “It’s the state of Wyoming’s money, citizens’ money, and maybe spend it a little more judiciously. That’s my feeling.”

Sublette Creek Reservoir Project photo via RJH Consultants.
Sublette Creek Reservoir Project photo via RJH Consultants.

Center for #ColoradoRiver Studies: Fill Mead first — A Technical Assessment #COriver

fillmeadfirstatechnicalassessment

Click here to the Denver for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University for all the inside skinny on the report. Here’s the executive summary:

The Fill Mead First (FMF) plan would establish Lake Mead reservoir as the primary water storage facility of the main-stem Colorado River and would relegate Lake Powell reservoir to a secondary water storage facility to be used only when Lake Mead is full. The objectives of the FMF plan are to re-expose some of Glen Canyon’s sandstone walls that are now inundated, begin the process of re-creating a riverine ecosystem in Glen Canyon, restore a more natural streamflow, temperature, and sediment-supply regime of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon ecosystem, and reduce system-wide water losses caused by evaporation and movement of reservoir water into ground-water storage. The FMF plan would be implemented in three phases. Phase I would involve lowering Lake Powell to the minimum elevation at which hydroelectricity can still be produced (called minimum power pool elevation): 3490 ft asl (feet above sea level). At this elevation, the water surface area of Lake Powell is approximately 77 mi2, which is 31% of the surface area when the reservoir is full. Phase II of the FMF plan would involve lowering Lake Powell to dead pool elevation (3370 ft asl), abandoning hydroelectricity generation, and releasing water only through the river outlets. The water surface area of Lake Powell at dead pool is approximately 32 mi2 and is 13% of the reservoir surface area when it is full. Implementation of Phase III would necessitate drilling new diversion tunnels around Glen Canyon Dam in order to eliminate all water storage at Lake Powell. In this paper, we summarize the FMF plan and identify critical details about the plan’s implementation that are presently unknown. We estimate changes in evaporation losses and groundwater storage that would occur if the FMF plan was implemented, based on review of existing data and published reports. We also discuss significant river-ecosystem issues that would arise if the plan was implemented.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Making Lake Mead the primary water storage facility on the Colorado River isn’t as simple as it might seem and would require more study than it’s been given so far, says a study released Thursday.

Backers of the Fill Mead First idea said the study underscores the need to move ahead with studies and a spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District said the discussion ignores a significant element: the need for Colorado and other states to save water in Powell.

The Center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University said more study of evaporation from Lake Powell is needed, as well as a study of groundwater into the reservoir and of the fine sediment that would be released should Lake Powell be drained.

That would be a good start, said Eric Balken, executive director of the Glen Canyon Institute, which drafted the idea of filling Lake Mead instead of storing water in Powell so as to reduce water lost to evaporation.

The Interior Department has so far “written off” the idea, Balken said.

“Now is the time to initiate new measurement programs of (evaporation) losses at Lake Powell and Lake Mead so that future policy discussions have access to less uncertain data regarding evaporation and groundwater storage,” Balken said in an email.

The idea ignores Lake Powell’s “primary purpose,” which is to serve as a savings account for the upper Colorado River Basin states to deliver an average 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower basin, said Chris Treese of the River District.

The amount is set in the 1922 compact that governs the use of the river, which provides water to millions of people in the arid Southwest.

Advocates of draining Lake Powell tend to write off the upper basin concerns by saying it’s “with a wave of the hand that you’d have to ‘make a few changes’,” to the compact, Treese said, “As if it’s simple and desirable to open up the Colorado River Compact.”

The Fill Mead First idea proposes draining Lake Powell in a three-stage process and storing the water in Lake Mead, 300 miles downstream.

“It is surprising how much uncertainty there is in estimating losses associated with reservoir storage,” said Jack Schmidt of the Center for Colorado River Studies, who served as chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Research and Monitoring Center from 2011 to 2014.

Evaporation losses at Lake Mead are measured by the U.S. Geological Survey in a state-of-the-science program, but there have been no efforts to measure evaporation at Lake Powell since the mid-1970s, Schmidt said.

Using the most recent data, researchers showed the Fill Mead First plan might reduce evaporation losses slightly, but noted that such a prediction is uncertain.

The Interior Department should conduct a thorough scientific investigation of evaporation and seepage losses at lakes Powell and Mead, as the Utah State study suggests, Balken said.

Delph Carpenter's 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell
Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell

#ColoradoRiver: Moffat Collection System Project update #COriver

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Wall Street Journal (Jim Carlton):

Next year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to decide whether to issue a permit to triple the capacity of Gross Reservoir in the Rocky Mountain foothills, with additional shipments of about 18,000 acre feet of water a year from the Colorado River watershed. An acre foot is enough water to meet the annual needs of an average family of five.

That is one of the last regulatory barriers for utility Denver Water’s $380 million project, for which district officials say they hope to break ground in 2019 to help ensure local water supplies.

“We have an obligation to supply water,” said Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s manager of the project, as he stood recently atop a 340-foot concrete dam that is to be raised by 131 feet under the plan. “It’s not an option to not have water.”

[…]

The Corps of Engineers is expected to decide next year on a proposed new “Windy Gap” project in Colorado, which would divert up to another 30,000 acre feet a year to the Front Range, the heavily populated area where the Rocky Mountains rise up from the plains.

In addition, more than 200,000 acre feet would be diverted for proposed projects in Utah and Wyoming…

Water officials in California and other lower basin states say they aren’t overly concerned about more diversions upstream, because a 1922 compact requires the upper basin states to deliver them about 7.5 million acre feet a year, or one half the river flow set aside for human use north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of that water is stockpiled in Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border.

With the Colorado running much lower than when the compact was signed, water experts say there is less water to divert.

“So long as their development doesn’t impinge on their release to us, that is their business,” said Chuck Cullom, a program manager at the Central Arizona Project in Phoenix, which pulls from the river and stands to lose a fifth of its deliveries if a shortage is declared on the Colorado. “If it falls below that, then they would have to figure out how to manage their demand.”

Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, which oversees use of the river in the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, agreed that new diversions increase the risk of shortages.

“The more you develop, the more a severe drought can affect you,” said Mr. Ostler. “But we are able to live with a certain amount of shortage.”

In Denver, water officials don’t feel they have much choice but to seek more Colorado water.

In 2002, tons of sediment from a forest fire clogged one of Denver Water’s reservoirs during a drought. “We came close to running out of water in the northern end of our system,” said Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer of Denver Water, a utility that serves 1.4 million people.

That crisis helped prompt the district in 2003 to undertake the Gross Reservoir expansion, which would store more water from an existing tunnel that transfers Colorado River water from the west side of the Continental Divide.

Denver officials pledged to only take the water in wet years and release more into streams when it is dry—measures that drew praise from some conservationists…

Gov. John Hickenlooper in July gave the state’s approval, calling the dam’s expansion vital. “The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future,” the Democratic governor said at the time, “and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment.”

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

#ColoradoRiver: “This really is a critical time. Action is required” — Anne Castle #CORiver

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The next president could be faced with ordering a first-ever reduction in water siphoned from the river by 333,000 acre feet next August, a report by the Colorado River Future Project contends. That’s an amount equivalent to the water used in 666,0000 homes.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials on Tuesday confirmed the finding. Federal models show a 48 percent chance that, without cuts, lower basin states Arizona, California and Nevada would face shortages starting in 2018.

Anne Castle, President Obama’s former Interior Department Assistant Secretary for Water and Science and now a senior fellow at CU’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment, led a team of five researchers. They interviewed 65 western water policy experts and decision-makers in addition to analyzing federal data.

“This really is a critical time. Action is required. We’re closer to the edge than we ever have been,” Castle said.

The report concludes the next president must prioritize a Colorado River “crisis” within the first 100 days and ensure that key positions dealing with water are filled. A convergence of events related to the river includes an essential not-done deal with Mexico, which has claims on a share of river water, and unresolved claims by Navajo and other Indian tribes.

An imbalance in water use along the river — cities and farmers for a decade have been taking more than the river gives — means future development in the arid West may not be possible because there’s not enough water, Castle said.

“It depends on how you do it. The major municipal suppliers have shown they can reduce per-capita water usage so they can serve more homes with the same amount of water,” she said. “But increasing the draw on the Colorado increases the risk of shortages for every other water user in the Colorado River Basin.”

The CU team sent the report to presidential transition teams for candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton officials said they’d like to discuss the findings, but the Trump team has yet to respond…

For a decade, cities and food growers who irrigate 5 million acres have drawn far more than the river gives. This imbalance, combined with recent dry years, has led to a draw-down of Lake Mead, created by Hoover Dam, to record low levels. On Tuesday, federal officials said the water level measured 1,076 feet (9.5 million acre feet), or 37 percent of capacity — right at the threshold for ordering cuts. A draw-down of Lake Mead forces, under legal agreements, a draw-down of Lake Powell, above the Grand Canyon, which imperils hydro-electricity essential for the western power grid.

Drawing down Mead water levels below that threshold triggers, under 2007 legal guidelines for western states, federal intervention to order cuts. The initial cuts starting in January 2018 would reduce water diverted to Arizona (by 320,000 AF out of the state’s 2.8 MAF share) and Nevada (13,000 AF out of the state’s 300,000 AF share).

Federal officials who operate dams along the Colorado River said they agree with the Colorado River Future Project’s conclusions…

“Obviously, the next administration will set its own priorities. However, we agree that follow-through on the activities identified in the Colorado River Future Project Report should be prioritized,” Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Peter Soeth said.

Obama administration officials “have prioritized science-based decision making on the Colorado River, and we are working to reach agreements within the U.S. and with Mexico to address the effects of historic drought and a rapidly changing climate,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan Lopez said. [ed. emphasis mine] “Our efforts to work with stakeholders, tribes, states and our neighbors in Mexico are all designed to reduce risk in the Colorado River Basin — and will provide a foundation for continued engagement and progress on the Colorado River in the months and years ahead.”

[…]

Federal officials would order and enforce the cuts in water use.

“The goal is not necessarily a far more aggressive federal oversight role,” Castle said.

“But what we are noticing is that a confluence of events in the next 12 months will have a big influence on the ability of that river to continue to provide a reliable supply for the river basin that has grown up relying on it.”

West Drought Monitor October 18, 2016.
West Drought Monitor October 18, 2016.